The startup culture of conservation entrepreneurship

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The startup culture of conservation entrepreneurship Falko T. Buschke Laboratory of Aquatic Ecology, Evolution and Conservation, KU Leuven, Ch Deberiotstraat 32, 3000, Leuven, Belgium, email [email protected]

Introduction Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard of the resources within your control (Stevenson & Jarillo 1990). Although commercial entrepreneurship focuses on creating demand for new products or services, a new breed of entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship, aims at serving basic, long-standing needs more effectively (Austin et al. 2006). Social entrepreneurship is unique because it tries in a prominent way to create social value by exploiting unique opportunities and applying innovative methods and technology to overcome resource limitations (Peredo & McLean 2006). Despite extensive examination of entrepreneurship in sociology, anthropology, politics, law, and education (reviewed by Short et al. 2009), its potential in conservation has been mostly ignored. However, certain conservation problems are particularly amenable to innovative solutions and can be financed through novel fundraising tools. I argue that an entrepreneurial approach to conservation can complement conventional approaches and increase conservation efficacy.

Conservation Entrepreneurship versus Conventional Conservation Various definitions of entrepreneurship are loosely based on the size of an enterprise, its rate of growth, its innovativeness, and its adaptive capacity (Stevenson & Jarillo 1990). However, it is perhaps more pragmatic to define entrepreneurship in conservation by contrasting it to conventional conservation. Although this is complicated by differences in size and geographic location of areas and the species and ecosystems conventional agencies aim to protect (Armsworth et al. 2012), one feature typifying many modern agencies is their central-

Paper submitted May 31, 2013; revised manuscript accepted April 4, 2014.

300 Conservation Biology, Volume 29, No. 1, 300–302  C 2014 Society for Conservation Biology DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12340

ized focus on a limited number of clearly defined priorities. This approach limits needless duplication (Mace et al. 2000), reduces competition among independent agencies (Armsworth et al. 2006; Bode et al 2011), and increases the cost-effectiveness of identifying and acquiring land for conservation due to economies of scale (Kark et al. 2009; Armsworth et al. 2012). Despite these considerable benefits, this centralized approach also has 3 major shortcomings. Conservation activities are predominately carried out by a few large organizations, especially at the international level (Armsworth et al 2012), and these organizations usually do not represent a variety of divergent conservation values (Robinson 2011). The desire to leverage economies of scale immediately directs resources toward large and commonly shared conservation objectives, which overshadows smaller local issues. Due to substantial investments of time, money, and effort, large, and long-term conservation projects are more susceptible to the negative consequences of sunk costs (i.e., their future decisions may be affected by retrospective costs, which cannot be recovered), and this hinders the rapid realignment of strategies. The distinction between conventional conservation and conservation entrepreneurship should, however, be viewed as a continuum. At one end is the caricature of conventional conservation described above, whereas the brand of entrepreneurship I propose forms the opposite extreme. This brand of self-started entrepreneurship aims to sustain many, smaller conservation startups, promote diversity of objectives, and address local conservation problems through innovative and cost-reducing methods. These startups may demonstrate lower vulnerability to sunk costs and a greater tolerance of uncertainty than conventional approaches (Peredo & McLean 2006); thus, they may be especially effective with problems requiring adaptive-management solutions.


The Time for Conservation Entrepreneurship In the wider economy, entrepreneurship rose in prominence after the manufacturing-based industrial economy was replaced by the current service-based information economy. A similar shift is taking place within conservation. Although centralized conservation agencies remain more effective at certain tasks (i.e., the identification and purchasing of land for conservation), many issues in conservation are more amenable to an entrepreneurial approach. These types of problems can be addressed by inspired individuals who use innovative tools to provide high conservation returns for each dollar spent. Typical examples include the rise of evidence-based conservation (Sutherland et al. 2004) and the systematic evaluation of past conservation interventions (Possingham 2012). Assuming that entrepreneurs possess all the necessary skills for these tasks, the only limiting factors are original ideas and data availability; the open access movement throughout conservation science is making the latter less restrictive. Comparable opportunities include the development of analytical decisionmaking tools (Starfield 1997; Burgman & Yemshanov 2013) and the aggregation of scientific output in a userfriendly format to enhance scientific communication (e.g., Decision Point, the magazine of the Australian Environmental Decision Group [ au]). Innovation alone may not always be enough, but advances in technology and financial mechanisms are making fundraising more accessible to those outside traditional donor-funded systems. One new source of funds is crowdfunding, which uses Web-based platforms to solicit donations from the general public. Philanthropists contribute to conservation projects without expecting financial returns in donation-based crowdfunding; the most popular form of crowdfunding. The majority of successfully funded initiatives are relatively small (
The startup culture of conservation entrepreneurship

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